Need for change
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2019 - 12:00am

Still awaiting approval by President Duterte is a bill that would grant a company called Solar Para sa Bayan (SPSB), owned by former senator Loren Legarda’s son Leandro Leviste, a 25-year renewable energy distribution franchise.

The proposed law gives SPSB the license to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain distributable power technologies and mini-grid systems throughout the Philippines to improve access to sustainable energy.

The Senate and House of Representatives earlier separately ratified the bicameral conference committee report on House Bill 8179 so all that it needs now is the President’s signature before it becomes a law.

There were those who tried to block the approval of the bill before, claiming it would grant an unconstitutional super franchise to SPSB and that it violates the EPIRA Law. They say the grant of the franchise will give undue edge in favor of SPSB and put at a disadvantage other renewable energy companies now operating in the country.

Supporters of the bill, however, point out that those opposing the bill have omitted the fact that the SPSB franchise is non-exclusive, and has been extensively watered down by the Senate and Congress. In fact, the amended title of the bill says that the franchise is for microgrids in remote and unviable,  unserved or underserved areas in selected provinces of the Philippines and that these areas comprise only less than two percent of the total power demand of the country.

Supporters emphasize that the franchise limits SPSB to the use of renewable energy technology;  subjects the franchisee to regulation by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Department of Energy (DOE), pursuant to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act; requires SPSB to provide accessible and reliable service and local employment, with financial penalties for failing to meet these obligations; and provides that the grantee shall not be entitled to any government subsidy, the first time that a franchise has categorically placed such a provision.

Even prior to the grant of a franchise, SPSB has already operating in 12 towns in eight provinces and benefiting over 200,000 Filipinos, supporters said. They add that EPIRA has failed to give Filipinos low-cost, reliable electric service, and has failed to take into account the emergence of new technologies so that out-of-the-box solutions like those offered by SPSB are needed to deliver what EPIRA has failed to, which is to provide 24/7 electricity at a lower cost to consumers, especially in unserved and underserved areas.

While SPSB’s proposal entails no cost to the government, no subsidies, and no incentives, existing renewable energy and rural electrification programs require huge subsidies from the government, SPSB’s supporters stressed.

Supporter said that the National Electrification Administration (NEA) has requested government for P25 billion for its sitio electrification program and over P10 billion for condonation of debts, due to electric coops that failed to pay over the years, while the National Power Corporation has a universal charge for missionary electrification of P0.1561 per kilowatt hour, with total NPC subsidies reaching P20 billion annually. 

Supporter also mentioned the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) which is a P0.2563 per kWh or around P30 billion per year fund for the renewable energy industry. SPSB will not need this, supporter said.

These supporters also drew my attention to the growing number of  Facebook posts supporting HB 8179 which has already generated over two million likes, comments, and shares.

Meanwhile, various local government units have also thrown their support to the signing of the bill into law by the President. These include Paluan, Occidental Mindoro Mayor Carl Pangilinan of Paluan who said that the bill would give new choices for improved electricity and that unserved and underserved areas like his municipality would have reliable, efficient, sufficient and cheap electricity without compromising the environment.

Others who have written the President are Gov. Generoso, Davao Oriental Mayor Katrina Orencia, Misamis Occidental Gov. Mayor Phillip Tan who said that the bane of extended power outages and exorbitant energy prices would become a thing of the past, and Claveria Masbate Mayor Froilan Andueza who said that Filipinos would benefit greatly from the passage of the bill into law.

SPSB’s supporters also mentioned a Pulse Asia survey which says that 82 percent of Filipinos favor having new options for electric service. According to Pulse Asia director Ana Maria Tabunda, support for new electric service is consistent across all ages, classes, and geographies, with ratings  at 88 percent in NCR, 78 percent in Luzon, 84 percent in Visayas, and 83 percent in Mindanao.

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